DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins wrapped up their 13th scheduled practice on Thursday. And here are some of the highlights from Adam Gase’s final availability until training camp starts near the end of July.
DAVIE — Ja’Wuan James is the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL in 2018, at $9.34 million.
But James doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I am just focused on having a good year here,” James said Thursday, when asked about Miami’s decision to process their fifth-year option. “I am focused on having a good year for this team and that’s it.”
James, 26, signed a 4-year, $8.4 million contract as a rookie. So, presumably he’s happy about earning more than that in one season.
But is James still hopeful a long-term deal can be reached with the club?
“I’m really just focused on the season and getting better,” James said. “I’m focused on this hamstring and getting myself to 100 percent.”
James is generally one of the most affable, cordial, gregarious players in the Dolphins locker room. He is extremely approachable and professional. He just clearly doesn’t want to talk about his contract right now.
James was asked about Pro Football Focus ranking him as the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the NFL.
“I feel like I’m just trying to get better every day,” James said. “I’m just focused on coming back from this injury. Being a whole lot better. And finishing this season.”
One interesting thing James alluded to a few times was overcoming his season-ending hamstring injury. James missed the last eight games of last season with a severely pulled and torn hamstring.
“I feel like I’m past it,” James said. “I just feel the first couple of days, it felt different. The game is so fast and stuff. Just from not being out there. But once I started picking it up I was fine.”
James has been working closely with first-year offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn.
“Just using my technique the same every time,” James said. “That’s the hardest part, just doing the same thing, every time. No matter who you’re going against. Silent count. Whatever it is. Maintaining the same consistency in my technique.”
DAVIE — Patrick Surtain was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Miami Dolphins and like rookie Cornell Armstrong, he played at Southern Miss.
So Surtain expressed a desire to connect with Armstrong, and it recently happened.
“He told me to go out there and get as many reps as I can,” Armstrong said Wednesday. “He said, ‘Don’t hide in the back, go out there and just do what I do, do what I did to get here and just play ball.'”
As a sixth-rounder, Armstrong knows there’s know guarantee he’ll make the Dolphins’ 53-man roster. Of course, there was no guarantee former fifth-rounder Bobby McCain was going to make the Dolphins as a rookie and he just earned a $27 million deal.
McCain recently said Armstrong reminds him of himself. And so Armstrong has also connected with McCain.
“One day after practice, I just went up to McCain,” Armstrong said. “I just got out of that shell of just hiding back, so I had to go talk to him. I was like ‘Man, why did you do this? Why did you do that?’ Because I want to be up there where those guys are at one day. I decided to just stop shying around and just go out there and speak to all of those guys and treat them like they’re my brothers.”
In what ways is Armstrong’s style similar to McCain’s?
“Physical,” Armstrong said. “I like the way he plays. He’s a physical guy. He’s not scared to go in there and get rough with you. I like that. That’s just how my game is.”
Armstrong said McCain’s success gives him confidence.
“Man, it gives me a lot of motivation,” he said. “Yes, I look up to (McCain) a lot. Just to see that and where he came from – a fifth-round guy, late-round guy – yes, it means a lot. It does.”
Armstrong, whose focus in the spring has been at outside cornerback, said he’s had a few pass deflections.
“Every day I could say I laid a brick, I laid a foundation, to get better every day,” he said. “I may have a few mistakes but the next day, I’ll build off that. I’ll make sure that I don’t mess up again on the same mistake. Every day I’m just laying a foundation and just stacking bricks.”
DAVIE — Ryan Tannehill completed most of the 400 catches Jarvis Landry had over the four years of his Miami Dolphins career.
But Landry revealed Wednesday he and Tannehill were actually not close.
“I’m not surprised,” Landry told NFL Network, when asked why he had not heard from Tannehill since his departure. “We didn’t really have a good relationship anyway, so I’m not surprised.”
Tannehill leaned on Landry since the receivers’ arrival as a second-rounder from LSU. Tannehill also at times praised Landry’s competitiveness and toughness.
“I wasn’t trying to look back in the rear view mirror, you know,” Landry said. “I’m focused on here and where we’re taking it here. I wasn’t trying to take a shot at him. I understand how hard every guy in this NFL works, especially at the position, especially at the quarterback position. But at the same time too… I give credit where credit is due.”
Landry is referring to comments he made recently in Cleveland, suggesting the quarterbacks in Cleveland are “a lot better” than what he had in Miami. Landry’s quarterbacks with the Browns are Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield.
DAVIE — @Lastname_Baker (Jerome Baker Jr.): “Please don’t fight my battles I need these scars.” 18 May 2016
Jerome Baker is a speaking about the Twitter post he’s had pinned atop his account for more than two years.
Baker is speaking about scars. And how many he has.
“Quite a bit,” Baker said Tuesday. “Quite a bit.”
Baker is rookie linebacker from Ohio State, a third-rounder. And right now, he’s a second-teamer. And right now, Baker can actually draw upon his freshman season in Columbus, when he questioned why he was struggling.
Then, older teammates like Raekwon McMillan (now a teammate with the Dolphins) pulled him aside. And assured him. We all need scars.
“I don’t need anybody to take it for me,” Baker said. “That pretty much was my whole college career. Coming in as a freshman, being behind some first rounders, Raekwon and all of those guys, they just sat me down and said, ‘You need all the pressure and all the hard times you go through. It’s going to pay off in the end.’ Honestly, it did and I kind of just stick to that. The hard times are going to come, but they’re not going to last.”
Baker has speed and athleticism and an ability to run and cover. But he doesn’t have the experience. It’s why a veteran like Stephone Anthony is ahead of him right now.
“I’m learning the playbook pretty well; but now it’s just the focus on the little details,” Baker said. “The little things I’m pretty much focusing on. The basic things are going well, but the little things is what’s going to separate me.”
Baker can draw a direct parallel to his college experience.
“I’ve been through it before, so I know it’s going to come and it’s going to go,” he said. “So, just take advantage of it and try to learn as much as you can. The faster you learn, the faster it gets over with.”
Baker knows with time, mistakes will become fewer and further between.
“The physical part, I really never really questioned,” he said. “It was more the mental part of, ‘I keep making the same petty mistake.’ And after a while, three mistakes turned into two, those two mistakes turned into one and next thing you know, you’re not making as many mistakes anymore. The mental part is what’s – with any athlete – is what’s the hard part. Once I got that under control, the physical part just took care of itself.”
Ohio State has a tradition of linebacker play that is hard to live up to.
“My freshman year at Ohio State, that was the biggest hard time in my life,” Baker said. “Coming in as a senior in high school and a star player, you think I’m going to come in and pretty much do whatever I want to do, be behind Darron Lee, Christopher Worley, Josh Perry, Raekwon (McMillan). They humble you fast. They try to bring you along, but they understand that it’s a growing process and they definitely helped me.”
Baker’s social media accounts are worth following. At @Lastname_Baker, he’s constantly trying to motivate himself and others.
“Don’t count the day, make the days count.” – 11 June 2018
“I just don’t got time to feel sorry for nobody. Nobody felt sorry for me. #KeepPushing” 5 June 2018
“Sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne.” 29 May 2018
But Baker has elected to keep his post about scars atop his account for some time, now.
DAVIE — All this talk about three-safety formations (which the Dolphins haven’t really practiced yet) and about the return of linebacker Raekwon McMillan and the drafting of linebacker Jerome Baker.
Completely lost in the shuffle was former first-round linebacker Stephone Anthony. Anthony is still here, and actually as of right now, he’s a starting Dolphins linebacker.
Anthony is still young and still fast and still strong and still has the potential to make a positive impact.
“He earned it by the same way all guys earn it,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said of Anthony taking many spring reps at starter. “He’s been working hard. It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up. He works really, really hard. He’s a big athlete. He’s almost 6-foot-3. He’s 240-something. He can run and we like those body types.”
Burke believes a full offseason with Miami will really benefit Anthony, who was criticized in New Orleans not for his physical tools but his ability to consistently diagnose offensive plays. The Dolphins consider Anthony, 25, a part of their 2018 draft class, as he was obtained for a fifth-rounder.
“We’re trying to really overload him a bit and give him a full offseason, a full year of coaching with us, and see what he can do,” Burke said. “I think we’re doing the same thing at linebacker. I think a lot of our other linebackers are younger guys right now. So Steph’s been here. He has a little bit of history in the scheme, so I think there’s just a little bit of comfort level with him in terms of knowledge.”
The Dolphins have shown in the past that they want rookies and newcomers to earn their playing time and starting statuses. So it’s completely possible that by the time the season starts or say, Week 5 of the 2018 season, rookie Jerome Baker has surpassed Anthony as Miami’s third linebacker.
But from a physical standpoint, there’s no reason Anthony can’t contribute when called upon. And right now he’s a starter.
“Stephone is another guy that he can do it all,” Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso said. “He can drop into coverage, play the run. (He’s a) high-energy guy. He’s another guy that (is) a playmaker.”
DAVIE — Everyone in the Dolphins organization has been impressed by rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick over his first month or so as a pro. His teammates in the secondary and Miami’s coaching staff have said he’s as good as advertised coming out of Alabama, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has taken note as well.
Fitzpatrick had two interceptions in the first two weeks of offseason practices, though he didn’t say which quarterback(s) he got, and the offense is well aware of his presence.
“He’s been good; He’s flying around at practice,” Tannehill said. “You see his mentality and his aggression. He plays what he sees and he plays fast, and that’s what you want to see out of a DB. You might make a mistake here or there but if you’re out there playing fast, you’re going to make some big plays and really change games for us.
“I’m excited with what I see so far. I can’t really speak on details because I don’t know how he’s being coached or what positions he’s being put in, but from what I’m seeing, he’s playing fast and he’s working hard, so I like what I see.”
Regardless of it still being three months before the regular season begins, the early reviews on Fitzpatrick have been encouraging. At 21 years old, he’s picking up the defense quickly and demonstrating great work ethic.
That’s a strong start toward securing a spot in Miami’s crowded secondary. Two-time Pro Bowler Reshad Jones is a virtual lock at one safety spot, leaving Fitzpatrick to compete mainly against T.J. McDonald for snaps.
“We keep giving him more and he keeps taking it,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “We are moving him around to some different spots and trying to play him in some different places to get a feel for sort of what his best fit is or what the best way to utilize him is, and he’s responded well.”
DAVIE — For a kid who grew up in a blue-collar home with his father being a mechanic and his mom working in a warehouse, signing a $16.4 million NFL contract must have been surreal.
Dolphins first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick finalized his rookie deal last week and is set to make the aforementioned amount of money over the next four years. That’d be a landmark in anybody’s life, and he knows that, but he was relatively low-key when discussing what it meant to him.
“It was a good feeling,” he said. “Any time you see your hard work paying off, it’s a blessing. Me and my family, we worked real hard to be in this position, but you’ve just got to keep telling yourself, ‘This is not the end goal.’ It is a goal but it’s not the end goal.
“I didn’t come here just to be a first-round pick. I wanted to be a great player here and establish a great legacy here, so you’ve just got to keep on pushing it. Again, it’s an honor, it’s a blessing that we got that money and all of that stuff, but we’ve just got to keep on moving forward.”
Fitzpatrick said he didn’t really celebrate the financial windfall. Instead, he “just signed the contract and that was it.”
The deal was delayed because Miami was waiting until additional salary cap space freed up June 1, and now most of its draft picks are under contract. Tight end Mike Gesicki, a second-rounder from Penn State, is the only one who hasn’t signed.
One reason Fitzpatrick might not have allowed his head to start spinning over his rookie money is that he’s in the middle of trying to secure a role. He’s battling veterans Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald for playing time, and he’s off to a great start in that effort.
The Dolphins are three weeks into offseason practices, which end after four Organized Team Activity sessions next week. Then they break for about a month before reconvening for training camp.
DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins have the potential to be one of the fastest offenses in the NFL this season.
What this has led to is an exhaustive debate that permeates the locker room and the practice fields. It’s a controversy that may never truly be resolved, because, frankly, NFL players don’t test in the 40-yard dash after the draft.
All fast people think they’re the fastest, which is part of the mindset of running so fast.
To bring you in on the conversation that is happening this spring at Dolphins camp, let’s do just that:
Vincent Taylor (6-foot-3, 296 pound defensive lineman): I guess they’re having a debate right now who’s the fastest out of Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake. But Jakeem’s a special player. He played at Texas Tech and I played at Oklahoma State, so I remember playing him my last year. We played up there. The opening kickoff, he took a kickoff right to the crib, so that just goes to show you what kind of player he is. Jakeem’s very fast.
Jakeem Grant (has tested at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says he is the fastest player on the team): Me, of course. Hands down. Neither one of them – not Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills, neither one of them. No. It doesn’t matter. You pick the race. It doesn’t matter.
Albert Wilson (has tested at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says he is willing to participate in a race to settle the debate): Oh yes, definitely. I’ll win.
DeVante Parker (has tested at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says Grant is the fastest, he’s second and Stills is third): The GPS tracker says I was second. With the GPS I was at 20.9 miles per hour and somebody else had one time faster than that. Yes, I think I am getting ripped off. But it’s fine. It’s alright.
Kenny Stills (has tested at 4.38 seconds and says receiver Malcolm Lewis actually posted the top speed this spring): We keep seeing that. You guys should ask the head coach because we have these little things that are on our shoulder pads that track the speed for practice. You guys have to ask coach about that. So we know and the coaches know.
Adam Gase (who is intrigued by the discussion): I was looking at that today actually, because I saw that Kenny said that. I don’t know. We can line them up and let them decide. It depends what routes you’re running. If somebody is running the type of routes where they’re stopping a lot, then they’re not going to get the high miles per hour that they’re looking for. Jakeem, it seems like he’s running more go routes than everybody, so maybe it might add up after a while. I don’t want them to really (race.) I don’t know. It would be interesting though, because there’s some legit speed with those guys. I know every one of them will say that they’re the fastest.
Cordrea Tankersley (on the player who is hardest to cover downfield): Man, they all give you a little different taste; but I’d definitely have to say Jakeem. That man be rolling.
Vincent Taylor: Albert Wilson is a pretty fast guy. I’ve seen him run, so he’s pretty fast also. Me? Playing against Jakeem and seeing what he did to us in the Big 12, he’s a pretty fast guy, so I’d probably say him. I know when we played K.C. last year, they’ve got a guy named Tyreek Hill. Practicing against Jakeem Grant, that helped us out as a defense.
Jakeem Grant: I always average every practice in the 20s. That’s my job. We always do it every single day, to see who’s the fastest and who had the fastest miles per hour in the receivers room. I’m always in the top three, so as long as I’m in the top three, I’m good. Is there a race in the future? If you guys want a race, there could be a race. It doesn’t matter. As long as we’re not running a marathon, a 400 or anything like that, I’m good. Yes, I’m admitting I’d lose the marathon because, I’ve got short legs.
Kenny Stills: We’re all on the same team. We know we have a lot of speed and hopefully that puts some fear into some of the defenses we’ll play.
DAVIE — We’ll see what happens when the pads go on and the players are tackling and hitting and — blocking.
We’ll see how rookie running back Kalen Ballage looks when the real NFL stuff starts. But man, Ballage looks good in that number 33 aqua and orange jersey this spring.
“The obvious thing is what you guys see,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Wednesday. “When he walks through the door, you draw them up like that. He’s big, he’s good in protection, can catch the ball, can be a matchup issue in the passing game.”
Ballage will always be linked to former Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, because he was drafted out of Arizona State with the pick acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for the former Pro Bowler.
But Ballage is taller, heavier and faster. The dude looks the part.
Again, though, Ajayi was a physical, relentless beast on game day. And we don’t yet know how Ballage will react to NFL Sundays.
“Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL is going in there and you’ve got odd defenses and you’ve got spinners and floaters and trap blitzes and all of those things,” Loggains said. “He’s got to master that stuff. The more exposure that he gets, the better he’s going to get at it.”
Ballage has opened some eyes at open practices because of his impressive size combined with smooth glide. It would be a good bet he was first offensive player off the bus in high school and college. Ballage slipped to the fourth round of the last NFL Draft, but it wasn’t because of a lack of physical ability.
So why did he slip?
“(General manager) Chris Grier could answer that better than I can,” Loggains said. “I liked him and was really fired up when we drafted him.”
The Dolphins have a nice running back tandem of flashy Kenyan Drake and warhorse Frank Gore. But with Ajayi and Damien Williams traded and unsigned, there is an outstanding opportunity for Ballage to enter the season as Miami’s third back.
Drake would tell Ballage to be more ready as a rookie than he was. Because you never know when you’ll be tapped.
“You want guys and you really like a guy that can play on all three downs,” Loggains said. “You don’t want to be limited by smaller stature guys that you’ve got to take out on third down or a guy that … (Kenyan) Drake is a guy that can play all three downs. I think Kalen fits that vision as well. He can catch the football. He can be a weapon out of the backfield; but he’s also big enough in pass pro.”